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SEC Quick Hits: Week 9

Quick reaction to the fast-paced SEC action, including analysis on Georgia-Florida and Mississippi St.-Alabama.

Alabama 38, Mississippi State 7


The complete picture: Alabama's defense is phenomenal, that much has been established. However, the Crimson Tide's offense is only getting better behind quarterback AJ McCarron's play (who left this game in the fourth quarter, though it's though to be precautionary).


Alabama has scored at least 33 points in every game this season. Saturday night, it rolled up 414 total yards and five touchdowns in a efficient, steady effort. It's disturbingly effective at this point — although McCarron's interception drought almost (should have?) come to an end. Instead, he has now thrown for 18 scores without a pick and finds himself in the thick of the Heisman race.


Alabama would not be such an overwhelming national championship favorite if it weren't for this rare balance. Yes, Mississippi State barely avoided the shutout in Tuscaloosa. But this Alabama team has only trailed 15 seconds over the past 12 games. That's an impossible feat without production on both sides of the ball.


Set the stage: The trap game — or, as much of a trap game as a No. 11 team can be — now avoided, all sights are now Baton Rouge for the national championship game rematch. 


There is a bad taste in the Tigers' mouths following January's offensive debacle, and even though they have not looked much better this season with quarterback Zach Mettenberger calling the shots, Les Miles' program has had a bye week to contemplate just how to handle this machine that is the Crimson Tide. Obviously, the atmosphere will be electric in Death Valley, but will it be enough?


Alabama has proven to be a mentally tough squad, refusing to let down against inferior opponents week in and week out. But LSU will provide its biggest test yet. The country will be watching.



Texas A&M 63, Auburn 21


Same story, different Saturday: This game, which is now tied for the worst home loss in Auburn history, mercifully ended sooner rather than later. The Tigers never came close.


They trailed 21-0. They trailed 42-7 at halftime. If this isn't the worst Auburn team in school history, the race would certainly come down to the wire — the Tigers only win came against a Sun Belt opponent in overtime. It was a crafty, resilient Sun Belt opponent, but nonetheless, the Tigers have been inept, and Texas A&M only exacerbated the worsening situation for Gene Chizik.


Chizik is now 6-26 as a head coach without former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. If it weren't for the national title trophy in his office, the plug likely would have already been pulled. How much time can the BCS hardware buy Chizik?


Check his birth certificate: Following the first below-average outing of his career, the Aggies' freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel bounced back in a big way on the Plains. he tripled Auburn's offense in the first half. He accounted for five more touchdowns, reigniting talks of his Heisman candidacy. Could a freshman pull it off?

Manziel entered Saturday with 2,659 total yards, third-most nationally, to go along with 24 total touchdowns. Those totals will only get better and better as he gets comfortable in Kevin Sumlin's offense. He looks plenty cozy already.


Georgia 17, Florida 9

The biggest? Mark Richt got the monkey off his back.

The only possible storyline for the Bulldogs entering this rivalry was the fact that they had not beaten a team that finished a season in the AP Poll since 2009 against Georgia Tech. Aaron Murray redshirted that season. So the questions lingered whether the Richt-Murray combination could ever beat a legitimate opponent. Thanks in large part to their defense, the result finally swung in their favor.

Florida entered the game needing just one win to wrap up its ticket to Atlanta for the SEC Championship, but coach Will Muschamp and his program will have to put their faith in Ole Miss and Auburn, Georgia's remaining SEC opponents, to get back into the conference title race.

Regardless, with so much at stake, this one will go down in the rivalry's history books — and perhaps as the biggest win in Richt's career.

Turnover party: Georgia's defense entered this Saturday with a target on its back, not only giving up bundles of yards and points throughout the season but also being called out from within its own ranks. But when safety Shawn Williams said his team was playing "soft," surely he could not have envisioned a better response from his team.

Consider this: Georgia forced Florida into six turnovers Saturday (four fumbles, two interceptions). The Gators entered the game with just four turnovers in their first seven games, tied for the second-best mark nationally. If Will Muschamp's team was going to lose, few people saw it happening that way.

The most pivotal (and heart-breaking, for Florida fans) play came with time winding down in the fourth quarter, as quarterback Jeff Driskel drove his team into the redzone. On a completion to tight end Jordan Reed, who had put together a great game up to that point, tried to hurdle into the end zone from the 5-yard line. The problemm? You have to take the ball with you, and that's where Jarvis Jones entered the picture.

Jones stripped Reed, and as the ball bounced toward a Georgia jersey, the game visibly bounced away from the Gators. Game over. Should we have expected any less from this rivalry?

Healthy and dominant: Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, one of the most dominant players in the country on either side of the ball, slid out of the Heisman race — or, as close to it as a defensive player can be — while being hampered by injuries. But, needless to say after Saturday, he's back.

Jones logged three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries to reestablish his claim as one of the best college football has to offer. Statistics aside, his game-ending strip of Reed at the goal line will live in Georgia lore for years to come. Run, Jarvis, run.


South Carolina 38, Tennessee 35

Marcus Lattimore injury: South Carolina sent Derek Dooley to 1-12 in his last 13 SEC games, but Lattimore's gruesome right knee injury stopped the college football world early Saturday afternoon. 

Leading 21-14, the Gamecocks gave Lattimore the ball off the left side of the line, where he was rather promptly wrapped up around the shoulder pads. The issue, though, was that a defender going low hit the record-breaking running back right around his knee cap, bowing the leg back at an awkward angle and leaving Lattimore laying on his back, unmoving.

Replays show his right leg completely shattered, bent backwards and motionless. By the time trainers ran onto the field, it looked as though Lattimore already knew the severity of what just happened. As trainers ran onto the field to gather around, emotions mounted. As he was carted off the field, towel over his face, it was obvious that Lattimore, who suffered a season-ending injury just last season and had worked so hard to get back on the field, cried. He was taken to a hospital during the game for further evaluation.

The good news? If there is any that can come from such a situation, the scene of both sidelines emptying onto the field in support of Lattimore was incredibly uplifting. He is largely considered not only one of the truly great athletes at this level, but also one of the sport's class acts. Always gracious in interviews, always humble. Judging by the outpouring of opposing players onto the Williams-Brice field and the reaction on social media sites, Lattimore has earned his respect nationwide.

South Carolina's career rushing touchdown leader, Lattimore's 41 career touchdowns currently rank third nationally among active players. The junior had gained 667 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns (most in SEC) in 2012.

Career fair: Things could have (should have?) been so much different from Tyler Bray in this game, his best outing ever against a quality opponent. Bray, who entered the game with more interceptions than touchdowns against SEC opponents, suffered a  game-ending fumble when he was hit from behind by soon-to-be All-American Jadeveon Clowney. Bray finished the day with 368 yards and four touchdowns. He threw one pick, but it came on a desperation heave.

His counterpart, Connor Shaw, delivered as well (356 yards, three scores), but he did not have to face the fear of dropping back to pass while being chased by Clowney. Overall, it was a heck of a day for both quarterbacks, but Shaw's defense stepped up just in time to prevent Tennessee from taking the lead late in the fourth.

Also of note: The play of Tennessee receiver Zach Rogers was off the charts, outshining his own NFL-bound teammates Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Perhaps the Gamecocks were keying in on Bray's most talented targets, but Rogers proved he deserved more respect.

Rogers wrapped up his day with 107 yards and three scores, including an unbelievable, foot-dragging effort to bring the Volunteers to within three points in the fourth quarter. If it weren't for the Volunteers' lackluster defense, perhaps this effort would not have been in vain.


Missouri 33, Kentucky 10

First time for everything: Missouri has had a rough go in SEC play, starting off their tenure in the league by losing to Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Alabama by a combined 78 points. How to solve those issues? A visit from Kentucky seems to be the answer for every program nowadays.

Although the Wildcats hung around for the first half, the Tigers eventually pulled away on the strength of the running game (186 yards and three touchdowns). If the first victory is always the toughest, then this is a big-time threshold Gary Pinkel's program has crossed today. However, it just so happens to be a benchmark that every other Kentucky (0-6 in SEC) has crossed as well.

All the same, congratulations are in order for the SEC newcomer. Now, only Kentucky and lowly Auburn, which plays Texas A&M later on tonight, are winless in conference play.

Squandering opportunities: Kentucky coach Joker Phillips' team had opportunities in this game, notably on two interceptions that gave the Wildcats the ball in Missouri territory. Kentucky walked away with zero points. That'll do it. This team just can not find any answers.

The defense has been horrendous in its own right — entering this week with the 103rd scoring defense nationally — but the offense has been equally inept at times this season. With its revolving door at quarterback, thanks in large part to injuries, Kentucky is averaging just under eight points per game on the road in 2012.

For the record, that's not very good.

Dialing up the points: After entering the season with no career multi-touchdown games, Missouri running back Kendial Lawrence has now posted three such games in his last eight games. Lawrence, a senior from Rockwall, Texas, has stepped in admirably for expected starter Henry Josey, who has yet to recover from an ugly injury against Texas in 2011.

With the Tigers traveling to The Swamp next weekend, Lawrence will be needed to be at the top of his game if Pinkel's team has any shot at cracking the Gators' loaded defense. The return of starting quarterback James Franklin, who entered the game against Kentucky and was 6-of-9 passing, should also help matters.


Arkansas 27, Ole Miss 17

Winner's circle: Arkansas football lost a football game. No surprise there.

However, this one will hurt the worst, as the team actually showed up in the second half to compete with Ole Miss and come back from a first-half deficit. With Dennis Johnson's fourth-quarter touchdown run — he finished with 161 yards on 27 carries — with a little more than two minutes remaining, it looked like the Razorbacks had forced overtime.

Nope.

Running a two-minute drill, Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace continued his impressive season by driving 59 yards to set up his field goal unit for a 31-yard field goal to break a 27-27 tie. Kicker Bryson Rose nailed it. There was no time remaining.

Unlike the Tennessee outcome, it is unlikely a coaching job was on the line in this close outcome — safe to say, Smith's fate was sealed long ago — but it doesn't mask the fact that Arkansas can not get over the hump this season. How many different ways can this team lose?

Double up: Hugh Freeze is making his presence felt. Last season, this Ole Miss team notched just two wins and SEC games were a laughing stock for opponents. The program's only victories came against Southern Illinois and Fresno State.

Freeze has already surpassed that two-win mark, as he is now 5-2 with wins over Auburn and Arkansas. Of course, those SEC West teams were much stronger a year ago, but don't tell that to the Rebels. They are riding a nice wave of momentum right now. It's funny how a coaching change can have that effect.

Cobi Hamilton is a warlock: Arkansas junior receiver got his day off on the right foot with a juggling reception in the first quarter and never looked back. Hamilton finished with 146 receiving yards, doubtlessly keeping him within the national top-10 for receiving yards this season. He now has  yards in 2012. 

Now, obviously, this was not his record-breaking 303-yard performance against Rutgers earlier this season — setting the SEC single-game mark — but it'll do for a team without so few highlights this season. Not to be held back by the Razorbacks' embarrassing 3-5 season, the 6-foot-3 wideout is proving why many NFL Draft pundits continue to view him as a potential first-round selection next year.